The long reach of the internet was proven yet again last week. More than 39,000 individuals pledged over $2m to buy a 7.3 hectare waterfront property in Awaroa Bay, at the top of the South Island. It's a very nice piece of land and sand and will be a valuable addition to the Able Tasman National Park which is managed by the Department of Conservation (DoC).
The final purchase price was $2.85m. Of this $2.3m came from the public via the crowd funding site Givealittle, $350,000 from the Government, and $250,000 from a private charitable trust.
The fund raising campaign captured the media headlines, which no doubt contributed to the success. TVNZ dramatised the purchase by congratulating New Zealanders and announcing they now "own a beach". Actually, it's not the only beach New Zealanders own. DoC (on our behalf) owns 30% of New Zealand's land mass and large parts of the coastline. This is phenomenal by international standards and probably explains why they are struggling to manage what they have.
What is unique about the purchase is the mechanism through which it was achieved - it's a fantastic model for others to follow. Crowd funding empowers every individual and group by providing them with the platform to raise significant amounts of money for good causes.
Asking the public for financial support is the true test of whether a cause is of genuine public interest. All too often do-gooders and activist groups like the Environmental Defence Society run the public-good argument, when in reality they are representing their narrow view only, and want someone else to pay for it.
The Awaroa Bay purchase shows the public are prepared to put their money where their mouth is, when the cause is worthy. Where the purchase of private land is involved, all community and action groups should be required to seek public donations before a local authority or government agency gets out the public purse (usually a credit card).
In this case the government chipped into the cause to make sure the bid succeeded (or more importantly, to avoid looking Grinch-like had they not contributed). The result is central government has paid $350k to control land worth $2.8m, so, thanks to the generosity of others, taxpayers got a pretty good deal.
The campaign organisers are to be commended for their initiative and also for rebuffing the "offer" made by Gareth Morgan. Unlike everyone else, Mr Morgan's pledge came with strings attached: "I expect something in return – I want to use [part of] the property for my own private benefit meanwhile, just as the current owner does... [but] I will undertake to give the property to DOC once my family has finished enjoying it."
Mr Morgan embarrassed himself and he is now coming in for a fair amount of well-deserved ridicule, including from Sir Bob Jones who has asked the Wellington City Council for an exemption to the height rules so he can build a 5000-metre statue of Gareth Morgan in the form of Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer.
Gareth Morgan was not the only Morgan courting controversy. Wakatu Incorporation chairman Paul Morgan, said, "The nature of the title and how it came into being is challenging and questionable, and in fact I would suggest that the Crown acquired that land inappropriately and illegally". In total, three Maori tribes are now claiming the land is rightfully theirs. It seems they are not content that ownership will sit with all New Zealanders, of which they are a part. I doubt that they will take their claims further, for fear they may end up looking as selfish as Gareth Morgan.
Personally I think the success of the campaign is absolutely wonderful; not only for the fact that it is a magnificent property that deserves to be part of the Able Tasman National Park, but more so because those of us who battle against the erosion of private property rights and the reckless use of public money can now point to this example as a means of challenging those who want something for nothing. They can now put their claims of public support to the crowd-funding test and we will really see what level of public interest they represent.